Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

On Noah: A Letter to Darren Aronofsky

In Arts, Humanity, Movies, Pop Culture, Thought on April 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Dear Mr. Aronofsky,

Noah director, Darren Aronofsky

Noah director, Darren Aronofsky

I’m sure you’re up to your eyeballs right now after the opening weekend of your movie, Noah, but I wanted to write anyway. I saw your film earlier this week and have enjoyed thinking through much of it since. I rarely go to the theater for new movies (let alone so close to opening weekend), but this one seemed to make sense both for the visual spectacle of the story as well as the inevitable conversations it would generate. While I have not seen any of your previous films, I’m glad to have seen Noah.

I’m glad to have seen Noah for several reasons, the first being because – like you – it’s one of my favorite stories. I loved how you set the entire film under “the Creator” and that, regardless of whether they were for or against Him, the characters within the film lived with what seemed a constant awareness of this reality, as those in the Ancient World were much more apt to acknowledge than in our modern day. In addition, I appreciated how you did not qualify the story of the flood as merely a legend to be believed or dismissed, but treated it as factual in its occurrence, much like the Bible and multiple ancient texts do.

I imagine you may have taken some flack for choosing this story to tell, but I’m glad you did. I appreciated how you directed Russell Crowe in his portrayal of Noah as a watchful father to his sons and a loving husband to his wife in the first part of the film. You (with Mr. Crowe’s capable help) really teased out a tenderness and affection in the title role, much like I imagined God must have developed in the real Noah of the Bible. I’ve always tried to imagine what Noah must have felt like leading his family to build the ark, answering his critics for his bizarre actions while knowing what was coming, and wrestling with the guilt of surviving something that no one else living at the time (save his family) did. I was touched by Mr. Crowe’s portrayal of the emotion of all this in the beginning and at the end of the film – especially with Noah’s renewal of the covenant – and appreciated your direction in it.

As you might imagine, I do have some questions. Since the narrative in the Bible is only about 2,400 words (and none of them are Noah speaking), I’m curious what inspiration you turned to in order to flesh out your two-hour-and-twenty-minute movie. From my perspective, while there were plenty of curiosities, I felt that you generally kept with the main biblical story up until the flood, but even after the flood (and despite taking a pretty big narrative off-ramp before getting back on the main road of the story), I recognized your attempt to present a Noah laboring under the stress of so many years pursuing what He understood (or thought he understood) about God’s will. In fact, the scene toward the end of the film in which Noah lies drunk in his nakedness made more sense of that particular passage than I had ever seen before on the heels of all he had just been through.

Was there another text or source that you were using? Did the emotion come out of your own past or experiences? Have you felt the kind of blinding psychopathic anger and confusion in your own spiritual journey that you depicted in the film’s abrupt departure from the biblical storyline? It was so different from the scriptural text that I couldn’t help but wonder what might be behind that particular diversion. Because of my own faith and familiarity with the story, I realize there are challenges in telling a story that the audience might already know (and I also realize it’s hard to dramatically top the flooding of the world), but it seemed to me you were going for something particularly deep and emotional in taking Noah’s character down such a cold and dark road of wrath before having him step back into the warmth and light of love. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and hear more of your thought on that if and when you ever happen to be traveling through Oklahoma City.

As I don’t know you personally, I’m not sure how interested you are in some of the controversy your film has caused within the Christian community (not to mention the greater culture at large). While I’m sure the reviews and responses have helped the film’s bottom line, I have to believe that you are at least somewhat interested in what those of us who love the Bible think of your work. Has it been confusing for you when so many people who claim the same (or at least similar) beliefs have had such dissimilar responses to your film? I’m sorry for some of the hurtful things that have been said, as well as for any feelings of being misunderstood you may have as a result. People do strange things when they’re scared or threatened, and I don’t know why some of my fellow Christians have responded out of such blinding fear. (I often wish my fellow believers would get as riled up about some of the awful doctrine and artlessness we’ve put out in the name of “safe for the whole family,” but I digress.) Please forgive us.

I hope that through the preparation for and process of making the film you were able to grow in your understanding of the Creator God and His covenant commitment to mankind – a commitment that includes both a justice so passionate He was willing to destroy everything He had created in order to quell what we had done with it, yet a heart of so much love and mercy that He was not willing to give up on what He has always desired, namely that we would be His people and He would be our God. As mentioned earlier, I saw several glimpses of this recognition of that reality in your film, but I hope it was personal and not just cinematic for you in the midst of making it. Indeed, as scripture says,

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’

As I do for myself and others, I pray the truth of this passage will become more believable and beautiful in your life. The Creator God has given you much talent, Mr. Aronofsky, and I pray you do not let the world convince you that you are your gifts more than you are His child. The joy of the latter is what makes the endeavors of the former worth it. I hope you experience both in your life and art.

Blessings,

Craig

Review: Les Miserables

In Arts, Holidays, Movies, Musicians, Thought on December 25, 2012 at 8:38 pm

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Most people interested enough to read this review already know the musical storyline of Les Miserables (here's a quick refresher if you need one), and the movie (thankfully) is quite faithful to it. That said, I'll jump right into my observations and you can accept or reject whatever you like (feel free to leave comments below concerning either).

Hugh Jackman is always good, and while his acting is stellar as hero Jean Valjean, I was hoping for more vocally. Jackman is a huge talent and I'm not sure anyone else (in Hollywood, that is) could have pulled off half the performance he does, but his voice is not nearly as full as his Broadway or West End predecessors, particularly on the higher stuff ("Bring Him Home" seemed really pinched vocally). Still, he is very smooth to watch and completely believeable, both as convict and Christian, and while the only other Jackman song that somewhat disappoints vocally is "One Day More," it's probably more due to the choreography than anything (Jean Valjean seems slightly emasculated as he repeats the song's main line from the window of a moving horse-drawn carriage).

Russell Crowe is way out of his league as Javert, and there are some downright painful moments watching and listening to him play the self-righteous constable pursuing Valjean. My sense is Crowe got it in his mind that, because of Javert's strict adherence to the letter of the law, he was going to act and sing that way…and he does. Unfortunately, his face needs little help help playing dull, and his voice is just not interesting enough to be interesting (for those who know me, imagine if I were playing the role and you'd get about the same quality of performance).

Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" is indeed powerful and amazing to watch, but as much because of Tom Hooper's directing choices as her performance (though she is fantastic). As he did with Valjean's conversion scene at the beginning of the film, Hooper goes all Scorsese and films one long take with Hathaway's Fantine. What makes this effective in both scenes is that he has Jackman and Hathaway sing close up and right into the camera, which makes for a very intimate experience. Make no mistake, both Jackman and Hathaway make the most of these scenes (easily their best, and will surely earn them Oscar nominations), but they are most definitely elevated by Hooper's direction.

The other Hollywood-recognizable names in the show (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, and Amanda Seyfried) all do well enough, and the kids who play Cosette and Gavroche are wonderful. But as is always true with live theater, the secondary and background actors in this movie are really the ones who steal the show, as they had to rely on talent (and not just name alone) to actually get (and keep) the job. Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Epinone), and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) all turn in top performances, and it was a nice touch to have the original (and personal favorite) Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, play the role of the Bishop who forgives Valjean.

Much has been made of how Hooper went about filming this musical, recording the vocals live on set and then replacing the piano that tracked the actors with a full orchestra later. While this approach certainly benefits Jackman's and Hathaway's aforementioned key scenes, it also causes a fair amount of what feels like phasing at times, particularly when Jackman starts too many songs with spoken (rather than sung) lyrics or when Crowe is simply trying to keep up. Here the music suffers, and even if the audience may not know the show's score at all, I imagine they may feel a bump or two.

We took all four of our girls (9, 10, 12, almost 14) as they are all big fans of the soundtrack, and I was probably more uncomfortable with the few sensual scenes than the greater number of violent ones. That said, none of the scenes (sensual or violent) are graphic or gratutitous, and all are contextualized to the story being told; redemption, after all, requires redeeming what is not supposed to be. We want our kids to see, feel, and talk with us about these hard things even when they're hard to watch, but some parents may not share our conviction on the matter. (Note: The film's rated PG-13 for those who care about such things.)

One of the good discussions we all had on the way home was the end of the film and its transition of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from a call to revolution to a call to Heaven. As Jean Valjean peacefully passes away (escorted by an angelic Fantine), he joins the ranks of those who fought and died on the side of the revolution in celebration of new freedom and spiritual existence. The scene is hardly ethereal or weird, but it is a big one and presumes a universalist take on salvation, namely that everyone who has died has (of course) gone to a better place. As our kids asked questions and pointed out the problems with this assumption, we had the opportunity to discuss how a sentimental universalist view of Heaven may make for a warm and fuzzy movie ending, but it does not line up with true and accurate biblical theology.

Is Les Miserables worth 157 minutes of your life? Yes. Is it perfect? No, but impefection never stopped Jean Valjean (and it shouldn't stop you from going to see and hear his story). Leave a comment and let me know what you think if/when you do.

People Like Us (Review)

In Movies on June 29, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Rare is the film that ends exactly how you know it will end without insulting your intelligence in getting there. Happily, People LIke Us is one of those rare films.

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The premise is pretty straightforward:

"On the day his latest deal collapses, fast-talking salesman Sam receives the news that his father has died. Sam reluctantly returns home to settle his father's estate. In the course of carrying out the man's last wishes, Sam discovers the existence of a 30-year-old sister named Frankie, whom he never knew about. As Sam and Frankie get to know each other, Sam must re-examine both his perceptions about his family and his own life choices."

That's it, that's all – film over. But this story is told with such beautiful depth and character development that you forget you know exactly how it's going to end…you're just glad and interested as to how it goes the way you knew it would.

The strained relationships in need of redemption are multiple – slick Sam (Chris Pine) and his half-sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks); single mother Frankie and her acting-out middle school son, Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario); rebellious Josh and his grandmother, Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer); lonely Lillian and her son, Sam; Sam and his heart-of-gold girlfriend, Hannah (Olivia Wilde) – with all of them being affected or having something to do with the dead patriarch of the family, Jerry (Dean Chekvala), a semi-famous (but past-his-prime) record producer who put his music before his morals in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Despite my skepticism going in, the redemption is genuine and complete (but far from cheap).

The roles are well-acted (Pine is strong as Sam, but Banks' performance as Frankie is particularly compelling), and the characters are well-developed through a script coming (perhaps surprisingly) from writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who worked with Pine on the Star Trek reboot from 2009, as well as writing other action films including Mission: Impossible III and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. While I've not seen any of the Transformers movies, I liked what they did in humanizing Star Trek and MI:III and hope they continue sowing their writing talents in other genres as well.

The film's language (as well as one very brief scene of sexuality) makes this one a true PG-13, but while there were perhaps a couple of times when the dialogue seemed more profanity-laced than needed, the majority made sense in the context of the brokenness of the story. One thing that was nice was how the brother/sister relationship (though known only by Sam through most of the film) kept the sexual tension toned down and him faithful to his girlfriend (at least as faithful as one can be without being married).

People Like Us is what movies like this should be. Yes, the story is predictable, but the fulfillment of watching it unfold is pleasantly surprising. Opens today. Four of five stars.

The Sock

In Family, Movies, Young Ones on May 21, 2012 at 7:26 am

I'm afraid my out-of-town absences the past two weekends have negatively affected my girls in some very creative, strange, and violent ways.

A Dispatch from January

In Books, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Movies, Oklahoma City, Places, Pop Culture, Sports, Television, TV, Veritas, Young Ones on January 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

I have over 150 "have-to-answer" emails in my inbox, so it would seem a good time to work on the blog. (I'll just think of this as a warm-up rather than a put-off. Note: If you're waiting on an email from me, it will come today). Some items of late to mark the days:

I just finished two books, both with a financial theme: The Price of Everything, a parable of economic emergent order, by Russell Roberts, and The Third Conversion, a "novelette" by R. Scott Rodin about fundraising as ministry and not just money. The first book is a very readable text that our seniors are reading in Economics; the second is a more semi-hokey series of conversations between a seasoned fundraiser and his up-and-coming protege.

While recovering from my first kidney stone surgery, I found myself with some time to actually watch a few things on Netflix via the iPad. I'd heard of Joss Whedon's Firefly series (only one season of 15 episodes, capped off for resolution by the movie, Serenity) and enjoyed this "space western" well enough. I also had time for a few Shakespeare films (Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V and Patrick Stewart in Macbeth were excellent), which were fun and novel to watch.

There's been a lot of "launching" going on this January. A week ago, City Pres got off the ground with our first official worship service (I helped serve the Lord's Supper) and our Tuesday night CityGroup started back up; this past week, we kicked off our Veritas capital campaign and website, which we hope will come to first fruition in early March; and I've  enjoyed getting back in the classroom twice a week teaching the second semester of our senior American History course (two very different but engaging texts: A Patriot's History of the United States by Larry Schwiekart and Michaell Allen and A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn).

Other highlights so far this month: 70-degree weather, my four capitalist daughters selling three (and counting) enormous boxes worth of chocolate for their homeschool band program, Megan clearing off and cleaning my desk (she loves me), NFL football playoffs (which is really the only time I'm interested enough to watch), the daily newspaper in my driveway, cold milk on hand, and people who call me "friend".

Okay. Guess it's time to deal with email, to which I say (in my best British accent): "Do your worst!" Thanks for reading.

Blended Model Education (in a Perfect World)

In Education, Family, Movies, Veritas, Young Ones on October 18, 2011 at 7:11 am

Our Veritas Online Home Day Film Festival launches today. Here’s the intro video Megan, the girls, and I put together this past weekend to officially kick it off. Enjoy.

The Original Field of Dreams

In Movies, Places, Sports, Young Ones on April 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

The backstop was three times higher and made from a wooden frame and chicken wire. Shortstop felt a whole lot further away from first base then it looks now. Still, back before there was a movie about plowing under farm acreage for a baseball field and the whole "Is this Heaven?" thing, indeed there was – only in Illinois instead of Iowa.

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Thanks, Dad, for not planting over the baseball diamond. Truly, it's "gone the distance."

Review: Atlas Shrugged (Part 1)

In Books, Movies, Politics on April 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm

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Over the past several months, I've been working my way through Ayn Rand's seminal novel, Atlas Shrugged. While I'm usually a quick reader, Rand's 54-year-old, 1,088-page epic about the clash between laissez-faire capitalism and unbridled socialism has taken more time than usual to read, but not because it's poorly written; I'm a coach and it's baseball season (and books don't read themselves).

Fortunately, I'd read enough to cover the newly-released Atlas Shrugged (Part 1) movie, made for $10 million and filmed in 26 days. Megan and I saw it Sunday night and, though I confess I was skeptical as to how it would play for reasons of limited budget and potentially bad acting, my fears were relieved. This independently-produced film featured some capable actors (I liked both Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden), a good musical score (Elia Cmiral), and CGI that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it'd be. In case you haven't seen it yet, here's a trailer to give you an idea of what I mean:

In a word, the film is plenty watchable as a movie, but the real reason to see it is for the storyline of the book. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas wrote a succinct summary at TownHall.com, noting its timeliness for our present-day economic situation:

"Atlas Shrugged is a novel, but its plot is anything but fiction. In it, successful businesswoman, Dagny Taggart, the head of one of the largest railroad companies in America, struggles to keep her company alive in challenging economic times. Searching for innovative ways to stay afloat, she teams with steel magnate Hank Rearden, the developer of an innovative metal alloy, thought to be the strongest metal in the world. Success seems assured. Then the federal government steps in. The government proclaims the Taggart-Rearden partnership 'unfair' to other steel producers and passes a law regulating how many businesses an individual can own. The law is euphemistically titled the 'Equalization of Opportunity' bill."

Thomas goes on to explain the significance of the book 54 years since its publication:

"Atlas Shrugged is about those who would penalize individual achievement and subsidize 'the collective.' It is the embodiment of Karl Marx's philosophy, 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.' To put it another way, the collective believes that if you earn $2 dollars and I make $1 dollar, you owe me 50 cents to make things 'fair.' This is redistributionist or, to paraphrase the president (Obama), 'spreading the wealth around.'"

Not one to swoon (over anything), Thomas encourages folks to go see the movie. More liberal thinker Michael Shermer, writing at The Huffington Post, also liked the film, noting that "the choice to set the film in 2016 instead of the 1950s allowed the writers to tie in current events related to the recession and bailouts — with truck transportation and the airlines financially restricted because of excessive fuel prices and America returning to railroads as the bloodline of commerce." For the uninitiated, he also explains Rand's overarching philosophy of objectivism and her ultimate hero, John Galt:

"Who is John Galt? He is the film's principle avatar for Ayn Rand, without her all-too-human flaws. Who is Ayn Rand? She is the mind behind the philosophy of Objectivism, which she once summarized while standing on one foot:

1. Metaphysics: Objective Reality
2. Epistemology: Reason
3. Ethics: Self-interest
4. Politics: Capitalism

In Objectivism, (1) reality exists independent of human thought, (2) reason is the only viable method for understanding it, (3) people should seek personal happiness and exist for their own sake and no one should sacrifice himself for or be sacrificed by others, and (4) laissez-faire capitalism is the best political-economic system to enable the first three conditions to flourish. This combination, said Rand, allows people to "deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit."

To American ears, this sounds positively patriotic…until one looks past Objectivism's ideals into its realities. In a recent Facebook exchange, Ryan Dykhouse, a former student of mine and now a junior political science major at Olivet Nazarene University, voiced his perspective on Rand's philosophy this way:

"Ayn Rand believed that charity was immoral, that individuals are solely themselves responsible for all circumstances, and utterly promoted the prominence of the elite. Reason, the rational individual, has been utterly debunked. All individuals are products of the relationships they have with others. If you ignore the communal nature of humanity, you ignore the function of morality. The overbearing individualism of Ayn Rand's objectivism destroys the communal nature of humanity, and therefore humanity itself. Jesus promoted community and the giving of oneself to others, not the self-promoted greed of John Galt and the elitist heroes of Ayn Rand. Even within conservatism, believing that the individual is the sum of all things is dangerous…at least I believe so."

As I told Ryan, I don't disagree. I'm not an objectivist, nor someone who believes that the individual is the sum of all things. I do, however, appreciate Rand's spot-on commentary on what happens when government over-reaches in the name of the state. In light of recent history of "too big to fail" initiatives, this aspect of her writing (and of the film) is uncanny and scarily prophetic. Ed Morrisey, writing at Hot Air, gets at the timing of everything below:

"It occurred to me last night that this film wouldn’t have resonated nearly as well three years ago, or ten years ago, or perhaps not any time in the 54 years since Rand published the novel. The sense of crisis in the movie would have seemed too far from the experience of most Americans; likewise, the sense of aggressive, populist redistributionism would have looked hyperbolic and contrived. If this isn’t the perfect moment for this film, then it’s as close as I’d like to see it in my lifetime."

Unfortunately, Christianity gets pulled both ways by well-intentioned Christians who believe that either unrestrained capitalism or compulsory socialism is the economy of the Kingdom; neither is correct. John Wesley's view of a healthy capitalism was to "make as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can" – all three had to be in play for capitalism to be biblical. And an understanding of Acts 2 does not read as New Testament Marxist theory when one understands that Communism saying, "What's yours is mine," is very different from Christianity saying, "What's mine is yours."

The extremes of pure capitalism or pure socialism are both evil, and there's plenty of evidence in the world to support this claim. Whichever extreme of the economic spectrum one may favor, Atlas Shrugged – in book or movie form – should serve as a nuanced critique of both rather than a simplistic rationale for either.

Good movie. Recommended.

Children of the Corn (No, Not THOSE Kids)

In Family, Movies, Nature, Places, Young Ones on September 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

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We were on the farm for Labor Day weekend and enjoyed some of the most perfect weather ever for camping out, playing baseball, fishing, swimming, roasting hot dogs, and star gazing from the back of a straw-filled wagon at night. We also had a great time with Mom and Dad hosting friends of theirs from Chicago (of course, Peaches was a huge hit).

As nature's beauty tends to inspire, our 11-year-old ended up writing the first draft of her descriptive paragraphs project about the weekend. Folks, we may have another writer on our hands (though out of curiosity, I went to I Write Like and plugged in the paragraphs below for fun; the analysis came back as "Stephen King," which was a little disturbing, I suppose, but nevertheless a nice title tie-in to the picture above). Enjoy.

"I felt the sharp rocks sting my bare feet as I walked across the gravel driveway that led to the door of my grandparents' house. The feel of the wind made me calm, as the glowing sun shone upon me. My lungs were filled with fresh country air. I could smell the pine trees. I admired the lovely patterns on each and every flower. The smooth blades of grass soothed my aching feet as I skipped across the homemade baseball field that my cousins and I loved.

I heard the birds singing their sweet songs, and the rustle of the breeze as it played between the tall stalks of corn. When I camped outside that night, the cicadas chirped, as the woodpeckers plowed into a tree. It was all a natural lullaby. My aunt and I took a stroll down to the pond where the trees were formed into the most perfect shade. We watched the pond as the ripples of water floated across the surface to the other side. I picked soybeans and snacked all the way home. As I jumped in my van, I stared out the window as the corn waved goodbye."

Review: Inception

In Movies on August 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Inception CraigIf you've not yet seen Christopher Nolan's Inception, it's mind-blowing. While I tend to review most films I see in the theater, I'm not sure I have words for this one; thus, I'll borrow this line from columnist Andree Seu's thoughts on the film: "Inception is like The Matrix on LSD." Indeed.

That one guy wrote AND directed this masterpiece is astounding; that this one guy is my age makes me glad that I might see a lot more of his films in the future.

I know I'm gushing, so I'll stop. All I can say is, if you're at all into exciting films that are engaging on an intellectual, philosophical, and even theological level, Inception is something straight out of a dream.

Or two…or three…or four…

(FYI: Here's my review of Nolan's previous film, The Dark Knight.)

Communications or Entertainment?

In Internet, Movies, Technology, Thought, TV on July 24, 2010 at 12:11 am
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"Here we are now…entertain us"

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So Megan and I, having been the victim one too many times of AT+T raising our home phone/DSL rates again, have re-entered the fray of trying to figure out the best communications deal out there. If you've done this recently, you know it isn't easy: there are far too many options, and none of them seem all that great bundled together for our particular purposes.

Our particular purposes, I suppose, are part of the problem, but so are the prices. In researching options, I was amazed both at the breadth of what's available as well as what the market is apparently willing to bear per month to subscribe to them. By my estimation, families with a land line, multiple cell phones (say 3-4), 300+ TV channels with multi-channel DVR capabilities, and broadband Internet across multiple computers could be paying as much as $400-$500 per month in fees, which doesn't even include hardware (cell phones, receiving dish or cable installation, computers) costs on the front end.

We currently have a land line, one pay-by-the-minute cell phone ($100 goes about 6 months), antenna television (6 channels), a mid-level (two movies out at a time) NetFlix subscription, and DSL. Add on a subscription to Covenant Eyes for the computers and we now pay about $120 in monthly fees, which we've determined is too much for our budget.

We'd like to find a cheaper land line provider (or drop the land line altogether and bite the bullet financially and philosophically by going to two cell phones), but we can't make the numbers work (and, of course, none of this even deals with the whole television part of the equation, nor the movie rental fee).

How much is too much in this area of communications? And is it really "communications" being talked about, or is our culture's thirst for entertainment – visual, digital, social – behind the willingness to pay ever-increasing amounts of money to ensure access to it?

For the Christian, how does what gets spent on entertainment compare to what gets given to the Kingdom each month? How much is too much/too little? Where's the line and what are the reasons for where it's been drawn (or re-drawn) over the years?

Wrestling through this anew these days. Feel free to add your two cents and share your own communications/entertainment experiences, ideas, and counsel. I'm open like 7-11.

WWJD?

In Books, Calling, Internet, Marriage, Movies, Places, Technology on January 23, 2010 at 7:38 am

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On Friday night, Megan and I had an impromptu date. It had been a while. As the girls were happily occupied at a friend's house up the street (thanks, Erin and company), we went out for Chinese, talked, and then came home to watch Julie & Julia before picking up the girls to play parents again.

If you haven't seen the movie, you might have heard how good it is. Megan especially liked it because it's about so many things she loves: marriage, blogging, cooking, books, and the challenge of juggling those things all at once. The conversations in the film were familiar ones to both of us, as we've struggled with many of the same things Julie and her husband did concerning her art: the absence of time, the constancy of insecurity, the selfishness of narcissism, the fear of rejection, and still the hope of creating something beautiful in the midst of everything else.

For me, the film's storybook ending (literally: Julie Powell's blog gets turned into a book which gets turned into a movie) was about revisiting the hope of being faithful with very little in order to be faithful with much. The perseverance required for Julie's experiment of cooking 524 recipes in 365 days (and then blogging about it for all to read) reminds me of "the good old days" of blogging, when the hope of something happening seemed more possible than it does now, as there seemed so fewer blogs then.

Apparently, though, it does still happen. Just yesterday, I read on Heather Armstrong's blog (I've been a reader for probably five years) about the exclusive development deal she and her husband, Jon, signed with HGTV. I know next to nothing about the network, but apparently lots of people do. While I'm happy for the Armstrongs, it feels like it's the beginning of the end of such transitions (if you'll remember, almost a year ago, I considered whether the potential of the personal blog might be coming to an end).

Sadly, my need for inspiration comes on the heels of yet another rejection of my own writing efforts, this time in the form of an email from an up-and-coming agent I approached a few weeks ago. He writes:

"Thanks for allowing me to review your proposal. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass. It’s not that I don’t think this is a good idea or good content. I think it’s fine on both those levels. But these days, with the poor publishing economy, I am having to limit my new clients to only those authors who have established a large national fan base. The larger publishers are insisting on such, since they don’t have the marketing budgets they once did. They want to know that they can sell an immediate 15K or so books to the author’s fan base without having to spend a single marketing dollar. It sucks. But that’s the way it is right now."

Thus, I'm giving thought to what this means (or should) for my publishing future. Do I keep up my occasional attempt to squeeze through a publishing door at least
enough to get someone's attention (even if it's only to look up and ask
me to leave)? Do I swallow my pride and go the self-publishing route, building a grassroots following, and then, if all goes well, take another run at the agents and publishing houses? Or, do I let go of the idea of traditional publishing machine all together and go completely digital, publishing content here (or elsewhere) without getting completely ripped off financially or otherwise?

These are some of the questions I've been asking myself of late, but as of last night's movie, I've added one more to my literary litany of lament:

What would Julia do?

We Go Together

In Marriage, Movies on January 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Gal_grease-5 Cheeseball

Megan and I introduced the girls to Grease tonight. In addition to being able to recite every line of dialogue and flawlessly perform "The Hand Jive," Megan also knows each word, syllable, and sound in the finale "We Go Together." Here are the lyrics:

We go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong
Remembered forever like shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
That's the way it should be – wha oooh yeah!

We're one of a kind, like dip di-dip di-dip, doo-bop a doo-bee doo
Our names are signed, boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy, shoo-by doo-wop she-bop
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
We'll always be like one, wa-wa-wa-waaa!

When we go out at night and stars are shinin' bright
Up in the skies above or at the high school dance
Where you can find romance
Maybe it might be lo-oh oh oh-oh oh-ove

Ra-ma la-ma la-ma ka ding a da ding de dong
Shoo-bop sha wad-da wad-da yipp-it-y boom de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
Dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-bee doo
Boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-ed-y
Shoo-by doo-wop she-bop
Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na yip-pit-y boom de boom
Ra-ma la-ma la-ma ka ding-a de ding de dong
Shoo-bop sha wad-da wad-da yipp-it-y boom de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
Dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-bee doo
Boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy boog-e-dy
shoo-by doo-wop she-bop
Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na yip-pit-ty boom de boom
A wop ba-ba lu-mop a wop bam boom

We're for each other like a wop ba-ba lu-mop and wop bam boom
Just like my brother is sha na na na na na yip-pit-y dip de boom
Chang chang chang-it-ty chang shoo-bop
We'll always be together – wha oooh yeah!

Folks, if that's not romantic, I don't know what is. Just another reason I'm confident in saying, "We'll always be together" (repeat ad nauseum).

‘Tis the Season…

In Books, Education, Family, Holidays, Movies, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Seminary, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Westminster on December 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

IMG_3833

…when Megan bakes cookies and leaves them around for me to pretend to ignore. It's also when we put up a tree and clutter it (and the house) with all things Christmas holiday. Ah, the sights, sounds, smells, and stuff of the season.

But I digress. Lots going on this week. Here's a rundown:

  • The two-year hostage situation of St. Louis' main east/west artery has ended, as I-64/40 is open again. If all goes according to plan, I should be able to cut 10 minutes off my once-25-minute commute to/from school and seminary, which is exciting. All in all, the process wasn't that bad, but I wouldn't want to do it again anytime soon.
  • I'm finishing up the fourth and fifth commandments with my Ethics students, as well as the book of Matthew with my New Testament kids this week. Finals are next week, so I've got a few tests to write and more than a few papers and assignments to grade. Glad to be two weeks away from Christmas break.
  • This week is a big one in terms of finishing my seminary studies for the semester. I have an hour-long group project presentation on Monday, a paper due on Wednesday, and two finals to take by Sunday and then I'm down to my final semester at Covenant (and probably forever, unless some university wants to give me a full-ride to work on a Ph.D.). It will feel really good to finally be finished, both in a week and in five months.
  • Megan and I are turning in our collective resignation letter to Nick at the Covenant bookstore, with our last day being December 30th (Nick's actually known about it for months, so it's not that big a deal). It was a good year-and-a-half at my first real retail experience, but I've got to make room to coach JV baseball in the spring, so something had to go.
  • I'm planning to post my 2009 booklist in another week, so check back soon if you're still looking for readable gift ideas. I was initially disappointed in my list this year, but at second glance it's not that bad (though I definitely didn't read as much fiction as I have in the past). Look for it in another few days.
  • Speaking of books as gifts, TwentySomeone wraps as well at Christmas as at graduation time (just wanted to let you know in case you're still looking for a present for a hard-to-buy-for twentysomething in your life).
  • And speaking of Christmas, in addition to the obligatory family
    roadtrips/celebrations, we're planning to paint another room (dining)
    over the holidays and get some time hanging out here at home. We're also looking forward to seeing the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney, as parts were filmed in St. Louis (and some of those parts right here in our little Maplewood community).

Guess that's about it. If you're
in town or passing through over the holidays, come on by – being the introverts that we
are, we might not answer the door, but you'll enjoy the trip.

Life on Other Planets: Some Thoughts

In Church, Humanity, Movies, Nature, Places, Science, Theologians, Travel on August 7, 2009 at 8:43 am

A friend of mine and I sat through the movie Knowing the other night. While one of the worst movies I've watched in a while (incoherent plot, numerology silliness, Nicolas Cage once again playing Nicolas Cage), the film did serve one purpose: it got us talking about the idea of life on other planets.

Despite my X-Files affections, I tend to doubt that we have neighbors in the universe: other populated worlds aren't mentioned in the Bible, and most scientists say the odds against are just too huge otherwise. Maybe I'm your typical egocentric human, but when astronomer Carl Sagan said that if life didn't exist elsewhere in the universe it would be "an awful waste of space," I guess I feel kind of special.

At the same time, I recognize that just because the Bible doesn't record the existence of life on other planets doesn't mean there isn't. Remember: the Bible is a historical-redemptive narrative, not an all-encompassing science book. And speaking of science, there are plenty of scientists who do not share my doubts, running huge scientific initiatives and spending a boatload of money in hopes of making some kind of contact with other beings.

Despite my doubts, and certainly different from the typical evangelical Christian line, the argument for other life in the universe does seem plausible, if for no other reason than the very nature of God as Creator. But here's the question I think it all comes down to: The Scriptures attest to our fallen nature as created beings, but is that to mean all that is on the Earth or all that is in the entire universe?

The question is important because, while we have the account of God redeeming Earth through Christ, if there are indeed other beings in the universe and the universe is indeed fallen, then was there a plan of salvation for other planets as well? C.S. Lewis believed so, namely that when the Bible talks of "creation," it is in reference to the Earth and not necessarily the universe. From this perspective, the idea of other created beings without need of redemption is possible; we just don't have a record of it.

Thinking about all this is particularly interesting in light of mankind's desire to explore space. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says that the only way humanity can survive is to figure out how to leave the planet; hence, the importance of the U.S. space program. This, of course, begs the question: If the Earth is the only fallen part of God's creation, what does our going out into a non-fallen universe mean? Does it matter? And what would it be like to meet other creation who are intact in their creation perfection?

This is what I understand Lewis' Space Trilogy
to be about: man
leaves Earth
(called the Silent Planet, as it was cut off from the rest of the
universe because of its evil), to colonize elsewhere in the universe
(Perelandra) among beings not in need of redemption. These innocents, though not fallen
themselves, are nevertheless affected by humans and Earth's evil
before it is all finally resolved in the Siege of Deep Heaven against
the Bent One of Earth. In other words, sinful Earthlings contaminated another part of space which, until their arrival, had not been so. Thankfully, however, good overcame evil.

I've always thought of and understood the Fall applying to all of God's universal creation; thus, I differ with Lewis' premise that creation perfection is alive and well outside the surly bonds of Earth. Having said that, however, if God so chose to redeem other inhabitants of his universal creation, I'm assuming he has both prerogative and means to accomplish his will. In my finite, self-centered self, it's just easier to think about me and Earth, especially since God gave us a record of all he has done for redemption here (not to mention that I have no plans or desire for leaving).

Still thinking on this, but I'll stop for now. Anyone have a more formed/informed thought?

Saturday Smatterings

In Health, Movies, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture on February 7, 2009 at 11:29 am
A few things:
  • It's 70 degrees today. I'm thinking about getting the bike out and going for a ride. My kids think spring is here already, and I don't have the heart to tell them that the Midwest enjoys playing games with one's weather expectations. They'll find out soon enough, I suppose.
  • Our younger daughters had a birthday party to attend at the seminary's log cabin this morning, so I volunteered to bring them so I could spend an hour-and-a-half studying at the library. Of all the things I miss most about being a full-time student, studying daily at the library has to be at the top of the list.
  • Several of my ethics students are coming over for our Sabbath dinner tonight, and I'm really looking forward to hanging out with them. I love everything about these high schoolers – their good-natured senses of humor; the way they get so easily embarrassed; their zeal in engaging with and trying to figure out life. I'm blessed to call them friends as well as students.
  • Speaking of ethics, as this past week was Spirit Week (may it rest in peace), I treated my kids to a week-long viewing of Pope John Paul II. The film – 180 minutes long – is a really well-done treatment of the former Pope's life, his heart for young people, and his commitment to biblical ethics on a variety of fronts. My students really liked it, and if you've not seen it, it's worth watching.
  • I lost five whole pounds last week, almost exclusively from changing my diet (i.e. no exercise). I'm avoiding carbs and eating a lot more fruit and fiber, which all seems to be working. On Thursday, we went out to Red Robin for a birthday dinner and I ordered a burger wrapped in nothing more than lettuce (yes, I'm that serious). Encouraged, but I still have twenty-five pounds I'd like to drop.
Have a nice weekend, everybody.

(Semi-) Review: The X-Files: I Want to Believe

In Movies, TV on January 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

X-Files: I Want to BelieveOn Friday night, for old time's sake, Megan and I rented The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the second of two movies based on our all-time favorite television show that ran from 1993-2001 (we have all nine seasons on DVD). Being the X-Philes that we were/are, we caught the midnight show of the movie on the night it came out last July (I wanted both of us to dress up like FBI agents but Megan thought we might be the only dweebs in attendance, which was far from the case), but were disappointed by creator Chris Carter's decision not to develop the government conspiracy story arc that was so key to the weekly episodes and the first movie in 1998. The second movie worked well enough as a monster-of-the-week episode, but that was about it; I didn't even write a review.

Still (and in light of discussion on my recent LOST post), watching the movie a second time last night, I found that it played better than I remembered on the big screen, mostly because of the depth of characters Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson). Even without the government conspiracy arc, the personal transitions the characters had made over the nine seasons were still there and went beyond "type" to believable humanity. Granted, the direction wasn't as strong and the plot was plenty morbid (think Frankenstein meets organ trafficking), but the humanity of the lead characters really stood out, which made it that much more watchable.

So, if anybody's looking for a new DVD fetish with real characters that actually change and grow over time, let me recommend The X-Files. The stories are well-written, the science is fascinating, and the tension of the modern world trying to make sense of what cannot always be made sense of is a healthy one.

The Kids Are Growing Up

In Internet, Movies, Musicians, Thought, TV, Westminster on November 20, 2008 at 7:28 am

A thought crossed my mind this week that I’ll throw out to see if it sticks. For many of you, this may fall in the “I could care less” category, but since I spend a majority of my time with teenagers, I’m interested.

It seems to me there’s a major generational shift going on in the teen entertainment business. For instance, earlier this week, the MTV show TRL (Total Request Live) took a final bow after ten years of attracting the “biggest and hottest recording artists, actors and celebrities on most weekday afternoons,” all while playing “the most iconic videos of the day.” For better or for worse, a majority of the boy bands, pop tarts, and rappers of the past ten years got a whole lot of promotion via TRL, a fact wonderfully and cynically documented in the 2001 movie (not the 70s TV show) Josie and the Pussycats, one of my favorite commentaries on the youth culture of the time.

But that’s not all that makes me think about a shift occurring. This weekend, the movie Twilight – teen romance with unfortunate vampire issues – comes out, and the teen world all over will be filling theaters for weeks on end tomorrow to see it. I was intrigued by a comment one of the girls in my class made when, commenting on the “hot or not” looks of the movie’s Edward character (Jane Austen fans, imagine a teenage Mr. Darcy with fangs), she said, “He’s not even really that cute. All the cute guys – with the exception of Zac Ephron – are older.”

Hmmm.

Finally, I don’t know if anyone’s seen the trailer for J.J. Abrams‘ new Star Trek movie, but there’s nary a recognizable face among the actors playing the new (and young – very young) versions of Kirk, Spock, Scotty, et. al. Granted, Abrams’ name is the draw (he of Alias and Lost fame), but with him at the helm, it’s interesting there isn’t more familiar young “star power” (notice I didn’t say “talent”) attached.

Is something going on here? Anyone have any thoughts, or am I just spending too much time with high schoolers? My interest is not in the fact that I’m getting older (I know that already), but in the fact that the youth culture of recent years seems to be.

Review: The Dark Knight

In Humanity, Movies, Thought on July 24, 2008 at 9:08 am

As it’s rare for me to see a movie in the theater within a week of its opening, I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by posting some actual thoughts here on The Dark Knight. For the sake of not spoiling things, I’ll try to refrain from plot details and instead focus on some of the mental gymnastics it takes to follow the movie.

This is a very complex film – the most of any superhero movie to date. A lot of folks raved about the emotional depth of the Spider-Man movies, but The Dark Knight asks questions that go far beyond Peter Parker’s personal struggle in figuring out his responsibility to his power; as other reviewers have noted, The Dark Knight is a morality play that poses huge questions about the nature of humanity and asks the audience to share responsibility in answering them.

The dominant perspective is the Joker’s. While Heath Ledger’s performance is indeed intoxicating, what I think audiences are really responding to is Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker’s horrifying authenticity in living so consistently by his belief that anarchy is the only logical response to a world that does not make sense:

“Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey? I don’t have a plan. The mob has plans, the cops have plans. You know what I am, Harvey? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one. I just do things. I’m a wrench in the gears. I hate plans. Yours, theirs, everyone’s. Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I am not a schemer. I show schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are…Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? It’s fair.”*

The exception to the chaos, of course, is Batman (Christian Bale), who, though flawed, manages to make choices that go against his human nature. Still, Bruce Wayne (Batman’s alter ego) wants out of the Batman business, as it seems the cause of – rather than the solution to – the problem of freaks like the Joker coming out of the woodwork. Eventually, Wayne comes to understand (with the help of Alfred and others) that a flawed Batman is better than no Batman at all, but it takes some time (and a little melodrama at the end) to reach that conclusion:

“Bruce: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do? 
Alfred: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. He’ll hate you for it. But that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the righteous. 
Bruce: Well today I found out what Batman can’t do. He can’t endure this. Today you finally get to say ‘I told you so.’ 
Alfred: Today, sir, I don’t want to.”*

Serving as a composite of sorts of the Joker and Batman is Aaron Eckhart‘s Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s new District Attorney. Not much has been made of Eckhart’s role in the film, but his seems the key to understanding the movie, particularly at the end after he becomes the coin-flipping, fate-tempting Two-Face. Up to that point, Dent represents an unblemished hope of law and order for Gotham City citizens (“a white knight” of justice as opposed to Batman’s “dark knight” of vigilantism); however, between tragedy and timely coaching – both at the hands of the Joker – Dent resorts to playing the blame game with fate:

“You (Commissioner Gordon) thought we could be decent men in an indecent world. But you were wrong; the world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance.”*

In many ways (and without trying to overanalyze things too much), The Dark Knight looks at the world through three lenses: the anarchy of the Joker (frightening in its degradation); the fatalism of Two-Face (depressing in its meaninglessness); and the brokenness of Batman (frustrating in its reality). One of these is how most of us tend to live life, and The Dark Knight provides an intriguing look at where and how these paths diverge and – when played out to their logical extremes – eventually end up. The question left for the audience to answer is, of course, which to choose?

(*Quotes from Internet Movie Database)

Other observations:

  • Christopher Nolan‘s direction is seamless, well-paced, and engaging; you forget you’re watching a movie.
  • Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox are always easy to watch; they bring acting credibility and great presence to the big screen.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal is an improvement over Katie Holmes in the role of Rachel Dawes; the role itself, however, comes off more inspiring to the motivation of the romantically-involved characters (Wayne, Dent) than it really should be, which doesn’t ring as true as the rest of the film.
  • I don’t think it’s just because I’ve spent time there, but using Chicago as Gotham City was really distracting; Gotham City needs a darker, more New York kind of feel.
  • The lack of dependence on CGI for many of the action scenes and stunts was refreshing and made the movie more realistic; there was really only one scene (the extraction in Hong Kong) that I felt required too much suspension of belief.
  • Though I always liked (a lot) the arrangements of the original Batman movie soundtrack by Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer builds good suspense at just the right times; plus, I love the rich, bold sound of the trombones in his theme swells.
  • Overall the movie (2-1/2 hours) feels just a little long, but I’m not sure what I’d cut; it takes that kind of time to tell this kind of story.

For those who’ve seen it, what would you add/delete/change?

Taking a Break from Boxes Linkage

In Arts, Family, Movies, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Thought on July 11, 2008 at 10:59 am

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted some linkage, so in light of it being Friday, here you go:

We’re off to take a black lab named Bruce to his new home on the farm. Have a good weekend.